Getting more people on bikes is an important goal for Auckland in helping to address our emissions, congestion and improve public health. In order to address the emissions part of that, Auckland’s Climate Plan calls for the city to see cycling mode share increase from 0.9% to 7% by 2020 and up to 9% by 2050. Getting large numbers of Aucklanders on bikes is not a pipedream though as over lockdown we witnessed huge numbers of people of all ages out on bikes taking advantage of quiet and safe streets and there are still reports of bike shortages in shops, especially for e-bikes.
So hey, Auckland: what's the most amazing place you've seen families biking happily during lockdown (and where they could keep biking happily whenever they like, given protected lanes, safer speeds, and/or less heavy traffic)?
— Bike Auckland (@BikeAKL) April 25, 2020
COVID helped to further highlight that riding a bike is both desirable by a lot of people but also that the biggest barrier to getting more people on bikes is enabling people to do it safety.
An article in the Herald on Sunday has highlighted one of the challenges we face in achieving that.
A teenage cyclist was again knocked off his bike on Friday night on Auckland’s North Shore – the third time he has been run off the road in two years.
Elliott Henk, 18, was cycling from a friend’s place in Takapuna to his home in Forrest Hill along Lake Pupuke Drive around midnight when a white car raced up behind him.
The occupants were yelling at him and the car honking its horn, before it swerved towards Henk, knocking his handlebars and flipping him on to the tarmac. The car then sped off.
Fortunately Henk only received cuts and bruises, although his bike was quite damaged.
However, it had left him emotionally shaken.
“It was quite scary, but to be honest it is not entirely unusual,” Henk told the Herald on Sunday.
Henk is a keen cyclist and rides around the North Shore streets several times a day as his main method of transport and, as always, when he rides at night wears reflective gear and rides with lights.
But almost every time he gets on the road he experiences some form of aggression.
Usually it is a few honks from drivers, or yelling out the window, but he has twice been driven off the road by angry motorists – once ending up down a gully.
This is an appalling incident and thankfully he’s okay as something like this could easily have ended up much worse. I hope the police are doing something to follow up on this deliberate assault. However, what frustrated me almost as much was the response from Auckland Transport.
AT spokesman Mark Hannan said motorists being aggressive to cyclists was more a police matter because they dealt with on-road behaviour.
“We would encourage all road users to look out for each other and be considerate of others on the road.
“If a cyclist has an issue with a driver they should report the matter to the police.”
The “share the road” message clearly doesn’t work given it’s been spouted for decades and we still have incidents like this. Worse, it clearly shows AT have a long way to go when it comes to initiatives such as Vision Zero. Their website even states (emphasis mine):
Vision Zero, an ethics-based transport safety approach, was developed in Sweden in the late 1990s. It places responsibility on the people who design and operate the transport system to provide a safe system. This is a transport system that is built for human beings, that acknowledges that people make mistakes and human bodies are vulnerable to high-impact forces in the event of a crash. To protect people from forces that can cause traumatic injury we need to look at how the whole system works together to protect all those who use our roads.
And under the section on responsibility, emphasis theirs.
System designers are ultimately responsible for the safety level in the entire system – systems, design, maintenance and use. Everyone needs to show respect, good judgement and follow rules. If injury still occurs because of lack of knowledge, acceptance or ability, then system designers must take further action to prevent people being killed or seriously injured.
Auckland Transport are the system designers, therefore regardless of the incident, by their own words, they’re responsible for delivering safety.
Having safe infrastructure for bikes not only makes it physically safer for those on two wheels, it also reduces abuse from drivers in part because it makes it clear that bikes are meant to be there. It even makes drivers safer.
Yet when it comes to delivering on making things safer for people on bikes, Auckland Transport has failed miserably, delivering fewer kilometres of new cycleway than even their meagre targets call for.
It’s not that they haven’t had any plans. Their board signed off a business case in 2018 for an ambitious programme that would have made a significant difference around Auckland, but they did nothing to implement it and then disbanded their cycling team – and it seems anyone else with a desire to make things better has been systematically driven out of the organisation.
Even what they do delivere is often sup-par. In the article AT point to the cycleway they’ve built from Taharoto Rd to Northcote Point as an example to show they’re doing something. Here’s just a shot of the first random place along the route I jumped to on street view, and it says a lot. We’ve got:
- Painted lanes that provide zero protection and cars parked on the inside of it.
- There’s a car parked in the cycle lane, because despite repeatedly showing AT this happens, they keep refusing to put broken yellow lines down on new cycleways. There’s another vehicle parked partially in the lane further up – that happens to be a council vehicle.
- On the opposite side of the road the lane it just ends at a bus stop
Around the corner on Northcote Rd even this disappears and there are just narrow shared paths that have more in common with a pump track than an urban cycle facility. It even has power poles in the middle of it.
These facilities are only slightly better than those on Taharoto Rd, which it’s possible Elliot was trying to avoid as much as possible, and I can’t blame him – it’s not uncommon to see cars travelling along in one of the five traffic lanes at 60-80km/h (or more) while cyclists get just a thin white line of paint to protect them. The lanes here, like those on the other lake Rd, also happen to stop short of Takapuna itself forcing those on bikes to mix it with vehicles, which can serve to inflame tensions in some.
We know that AT are currently in the process of reviewing the cycling programme and we’ll be keeping a close eye on the outcomes of that. It needs to include both a significant expansion of the network and a way to break through both the internal and external barriers holding them back from delivering on it.